BASÍLICA DE BOBASTRO
The basilic which forms a rectangle of 16.50 x 10.30m canonically oriented towards east, consists of three naves, the central one somewhat wider than the lateral ones and keeping the same width as the naves; an also triple transept and three apses, the lateral ones square and the central one with horseshoe interior shape, that lightly stands out from the general rectangle. The access to the apses and to the transept compartments counted with jambs and inner doors to separate spaces, very often seen in Mozarabic lithurgy; all of that chiseled on the same rock. It is also interesting to point out that the floor level in the different areas goes down from east to west, 17 cm between the apse and the transept and another 17 cm between this and the nave, possibly for lithurgical reasons. Under the floor of the central nave, on the west side, we find the entrance to a crypt that had been being drilled under the church.
As we analyse its plan, we find that it corresponds almost exactly to the same model, replacing the columns by monolithic pillars, much easier to chisel on the rock than that of St. Miguel de la Escalada, with the only difference that in Bobastro the lateral apses are rectangular, like those of St. Cebrián de Mazote. We know that these two churches were built at the beginnings of the 10th century by monks that emigrated from Al Andalus, therefore it seems probable that the Basilic of Bobastro was built between the conversion to Christianity of Omar ibn Hafsún in 899 and his death in 917, so we reach the conclusion that the Mozarabics were building basilics with a very similar structure at the beginnings of the 10th century, both, in the deepest area of the mountains range of Ronda as well as in the territories being reconquered by Alphonse the Third the Great at the north of the river Duero.
A lot of doubts arise when trying to know which had been its vertical structure. At present, remnants of the whole area of the basilic have been preserved, excepting a small part of the north western angle, and in those, the height of the walls is going down from south to north so that the two walls of the southern nave are still up to over 3m high whereas the pillars of the separation between the central and the northern nave have different heights; the larger one, a bit more than 2 m and the north external wall is significantly lower. Something similar occurs with the areas of the transept and with the apses. Everything seems to indicate that the basilic was formed by a monolithic part with a height that depended on each point of the original shape of the block of stone in which it is was excavated that would complete its height with an unattached building of the conventional type. In that case, the final result must have been a basilic similar to Escalada and Mazote: three naves, the central one higher than the lateral ones, separated by rounds of horseshoe arches upon pillars and with flat wooden covers, whereas the compartments of the transept and the apses could have had vaults of some of the usual types in Cordovan Islamic Art.
Another area worth considering is up to what extent the construction was advanced when Bobastro was conquered and destroyed in part by the Cordovan troops. In fact, whereas on the one side it is obvious that the crypt was not yet finished, the present structure of the best preserved zone, formed by the nave, the transept and the southern side apse, is vey atypical since in all this area the rock had been sculpted to a height 1.5m higher than the other two naves without any access from them, although it has two large windows that open to the interior, with a horseshoe arch protruding a third of its radius leaning directly upon the floor of the elevated nave. Neither there are any entrance doors from the outside nor access staircases to the rock, what makes us think that either it was dedicated to the enclosed monks, something unknown until now in Mozarabic churches or, what is more likely, that it was projected in its original design to proceed drilling, prolonging the arches as pillars -what the structure of the arch placed nearer the chevet seems to indicate- until lowering the whole of the southern section to the same level as the other two naves.
Nevertheless, its original aspect, as well as the news we have, that Omar Hafsun and one of his sons were buried in its environment, and the rest of the complementary constructions preserved in its large patio, seem to indicate that it was partially in use for some years although possibly it was never completed.
The first point worth considering is that its is not a rock church in the traditional sense of the term, since in Bobastro there is no intention to use a natural refuge as a worship place, quite usual in monasteries of this kind, based in a small adaptation and keeping largely the original form with a discreet external appearance. On the contrary, in this case the idea was to build an unattached construction chiseling the rock, something quite atypical, not only in Spain but in the whole Christian World.
On the other side, an effort demanded for such a work could not have been handled by a simple community of monks, no matter how large it was and even less probable that it had been developed during the 17 years since Omars's conversion until his death. It is neither reasonable to think that Omar ibn Hafsún would have let start the construction of a Christian building of this category in the capital of his territories while he worshiped Islamism.
Although some authors consider that in Mesas de Villaverde there had been already a Christian monastery before the uprising that had its centre in Bobastro, what we agree it is possible, nothing indicated that such a significant building existed in a period of severe difficulties for Christians in Al Andalus, even if that monastery had been placed on the same spot in which the basilic was later excavated. However, the recent discovery of another church in the area opens new perspectives to the possibility it might have been in another location within the same area.
Finally, the effort achieved to chisel in a single rock a practically undestroyable building indicates, not only the availability of huge resources on behalf ot the promotor, but also the wish to leave a work that could last in remembrance of something that had the risk of being pulled down up to its foudations. From that point of view, the Basilic of Bobastro seems to be the only element preserved from the work of an outstanding character who had been on the verge of changing the history of Al Andalus, and therefore of all of Spain's at the end of the first millenium.
Between history and legend, this incredible monolithic construction and its whole surroundings still await in Mesas de Villaverde an archeological research in depth while offering the visitor a susprising view of our history at the end of the first millenium, for its location, its landscape and its amazing characteristics.
Other interesting informationAccess: Leave Málaga by road A-357 until Ardales. Take MA-444 to El Chorro; at around 6 Km there is a paved road to the right that leads to Bobastro. GPS coordinates: 36º 54' 8'' N 4º 46' 53'' W.
Information: Red Patrimonio Guadalteba. Road Campillos-Málaga, Km 11. Telephones: 95 271 34 55 / 95 271 30 04. e-mail: email@example.com website: http://www.redpatrimonioguadalteba.es/epoca-edadmedia-bobastro-principal.html.
Visiting hours: Tuesdays to Sundays and Monday holidays, from 10 to 15 hours. Guided tours every hour.
Prices: normal ticket: 3?, pensioners and children from 5 to 12 years old: 2?
Imagen del Arte Mozárabe; José Fernández Arenas
SUMMA ARTIS: Tomo VIII
L'Art Préroman Hispanique - L'Art Mozarabe: Jacques Fontaine(ZODIAQUE)
Arte y Arquitectura en España 500/1250: Joaquín Yarza
Hasday, el "Habib" del califa: Raúl Romero Bartolomé
Historia de España de Menéndez Pidal: Tomo VI
Historia de España de Menéndez Pidal: Tomo VII: Claudio Sánchez Albornoz
Las ruinas de Bobastro
Historia de los mozárabes de España